Engineers at EPFL’s Laboratory of Applied Photonic Devices (LAPD), part of the School of Engineering, have created a novel 3D printing technology capable of fabricating objects in opaque resin almost instantly. EPFL, École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne, is a public research university located in Lausanne, Switzerland.
EPFL claims its new 3D printer is one of the world’s fastest. It achieves this speed by substituting a new volumetric method for additive manufacturing.
This new technique can be applied to almost any shape of object. To demonstrate this, the engineers created a miniature Yoda in just 20 seconds. A conventional additive manufacturing process would take ten minutes to complete this task.
How does it work?
The plastic used in the new printer contains a photosensitive compound that interacts with the light to quickly solidify the resin. The method is only effective if the light passes through the resin in a straight line with no deviations.
According to Antoine Boniface, a postdoc at LAPD, “Until now, we’ve always used transparent resin, but we wanted to see if we could print objects in the kind of opaque resin that’s used in the biomedical industry.”
“We pour the resin into a container and spin it. Then we shine light on the container at different angles, causing the resin to solidify wherever the accumulated energy in the resin exceeds a given level. It’s a very precise method and can produce objects at the same resolution as existing 3D-printing techniques.”– Christophe Moser, Professor at LAPD
Still, the experiment is not without its challenges. The light does not propagate smoothly in resin which makes it difficult to concentrate enough energy to solidify the substance.
Novel 3D Printing Technology
As per Jorge Madrid-Wolff, a Ph.D. student at LAPD, “With opaque resin, we lost a lot of resolution in the printed object,”. “So we tried to come up with a solution that would let us fabricate objects in this resin but without losing the advantages of our 3D printer.”
As a result, the engineers devised computer calculations to compensate for the light-ray distortion, and they programmed their printer to automatically correct the light rays as they ran. This was so effective that the engineers were able to print objects in opaque resin with nearly the same precision and speed as they could in transparent resin.
The new 3D printing technique can be used to create biological materials like artificial arteries and other useful body parts. Now, the engineers are adjusting their approach so that they can print multiple materials at once and increase the resolution of their printer from one-tenth of a millimetre to a micrometre. If they achieve these two lofty objectives, their 3D printer could forever change the industry by providing unparalleled printing speeds and quality.
The research was published in the journal Advanced Science.
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